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Conway Springs defensive end Tanner Wood.

Conway Springs defensive end Tanner Wood. Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle | Buy this photo

Conway Springs continues to follow Wood’s lead

Published August 22 at 11:15 a.m. | Last updated August 22 at 11:17 a.m.

It’s early in the morning and Tanner Wood is controlling the stereo in the Conway Springs locker room with a smile on his face and a Kansas State hat tilted on top of his head.

He blasts a song by country rapper Bottleneck — “Homegrown Country Folks” — and finishes up a workout, laughing as the half-dozen or so teammates left in the weight room cut up with each other and ask Wood to play some Tech N9ne so they don’t come off as too “country.”

An hour later, the group poses for a picture, arms draped around each other in a scene that could be from any era in the storied history of a program that has won seven Class 3A titles since 1998, including a 49-7 romp in last year’s title-game win over Silver Lake.

And if this era belongs to any player, it’s Wood — a 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior running back/quarterback in the Cardinals’ offense and a hybrid linebacker/rush end on defense who grew up loving Nebraska but is now headed to play for Kansas State despite suitors from all over the country, including Tennessee, Oregon and Southern California. He’s projected to be a college defensive end.

“We knew when Tanner was in our middle-school program that we’d have a special player when he got to high school,” Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said. “And a lot of it has to do with the senior leadership he came up under. They really brought him into the fold and showed him what we expect.

“And now, he’s that leader showing the younger kids the way.”

The Cardinals open up the season Friday at Bluestem. Wood had 88 tackles as a junior to go with three interceptions and a fumble recovery, and is the No. 3-rated player in the state according to Rivals.com. In Conway Springs’ single-wing offense, Wood is comfortable throwing, blocking or running with the ball.

“He can put his hand down and blitzes really well,” Biehler said. “But we let him play sideline to sideline so he can just go make plays wherever the ball goes. The nice thing about him is we can put different alignments in there and he picks things up very quickly.”

This season, Wood must help show the way for 15 new starters, including younger brother Travis, a sophomore split end/outside linebacker.

“We’re really close because we’re the only two kids in the family,” Tanner said. “And this year is extremely important for me because I want to show (Travis) how it’s done.

“I feel like he’s good on his own, but I also still feel like I need to protect him a little bit.”

The two brothers were inseparable this summer, lifting weights almost every day and heading to Wichita for speed and agility sessions on Friday with a group led by trainer Brian Butler – working out alongside K-State linebackers Arthur Brown and Jonathan Truman, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Joe Hastings and Philadelphia Eagles draftee Bryce Brown.

“It’s pretty fast-paced, pretty serious workout sessions,” Tanner said. “You feel like you’re going to throw up the whole time … and when you’re done you just want to die. You don’t even want to drive home you’re so tired.”

Along with their teammates, they also went to a full-contact camp in Haysville and several camps at Kansas State, where Tanner committed before his junior season after being recruited by defensive ends coach Joe Bob Clements.

“I grew up loving Nebraska, but when they moved out of the Big 12 my entire family kind of shifted to Kansas State,” Wood said. “(Clements) has a lot of the qualities that people I look up to have and we just had an instant connection … even after I committed he’s come down to talk to me and we’ll just sit and talk football for like 45 minutes.”

It’s a commitment that hasn’t changed how Wood treats people — or how they treat him. And all involved credit Conway Springs’ close-knit atmosphere for keeping him humble in his burgeoning stardom.

“(Tanner) is a good leader, he helps people out and he treats people really well,” Travis said. “I know I’m going to cherish this season playing with him … we’ve got a young group but I think we’re going to step up.”